Strip Annexation dispute headed to court

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

February 5, 2015

The City of Brownsville has been prospering lately, and in most cases a growing Valley city is good for neighboring cities as well. However, a longstanding land dispute between Brownsville and Port Isabel will soon be settled in court.

Brownsville claims its annexation reaches near the area of Holly Beach and the Port Isabel Cameron County Airport. It is seeking legal recognition for territory on the merits of the disparity of population and economic potential — a strategy conceived over a decade ago. However, all issues involved in the expansion have been resolved and signed by areas within that territory with the exception of the City of Port Isabel, which was never able to come to an agreement on a set boundary. Port Isabel is taking the position that prior annexations by Brownsville were improperly done.

Paul Seal, a taxpayer, filed suit against Brownsville claiming he was being wrongfully taxed by that city and that Brownsville, which is 25 miles away, provides no services to him.

Port Isabel City Attorney Robert Collins cites a number of legal errors Brownsville has made when citing the extent of their property claim.

“Brownsville is attempting to extend its extraterritorial jurisdiction and seize all properly that has not been annexed by other cities, which is unlawful,” he said. “There are a lot of problems with their annexation. They didn’t give proper notices. They didn’t publish notices in the newspaper as required. They didn’t use land surveyors, they just guessed about where the boundaries are supposed to be. The boundaries don’t close and you can’t take the legal descriptions they have attached to their ordinances and figure out exactly where the property is,” he said.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction or ETJ is the legal ability to exercise authority beyond a government’s legal boundaries, however, this has to be agreed upon by the external territory.

If Collins and Port Isabel are correct and Brownsville’s annexations were illegal, then unless the two municipalities enter into an agreement, Brownsville’s annexations will be discredited and their ETJ will go back to what it was in 2001. It would have a major impact on taxpayers in Port Isabel who have been paying taxes to Brownsville. If Brownsville loses, all the money collected outside of their reverted boundaries are at issue, such as in Los Fresnos.

Los Fresnos did enter into an agreement with Brownsville, but Brownsville offered to agree to a more reasonable boundary on the condition that Los Fresnos takes care of refunding all the tax money Brownsville may have illegally collected. The offer was declined.

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10 in front of State District Judge Janet Leal who may set a mediation between the cities until an agreement is made, though Collins said this procedure “has been tried many, many times before and we’ve never been able to get Brownsville to honor the agreements they’ve made.”

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